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November 18, 2017

The Very High Price of UNWTO Secretary-General Election Interference by Georgia


WorldTourismWire received a barrage of calls and emails from global industry leaders about the story we broke last week on United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) election shenanigans.
Summing up very well this troubling situation was a social media post by SKAL International UK.
“We read the latest news from the heart of the travel and tourism industry with concern, but fully support the courage to report about it by Juergen Thomas Steinmetz and most aptly so on World Press Freedom Day. Silence is dangerous and vigilance essential in combating corruption.”
Indeed, silence and looking the other way puts our industry in peril. We are concerned the response from UNWTO Executive Council members has been rather muted. There has been scant response about the egregious quid pro quo deals to buy votes for tourism’s top job by Georgia.
As an industry, the high price we would collectively pay is irreparable damage to the integrity and core foundation of our UNWTO. Make no mistake, this is OUR UNWTO, it belongs to us – the tourism industry and the citizens of countries in every corner of our world. We are the stakeholders, not backroom deal makers with agendas unrelated to tourism.
The former head of UFTAA (United Federation of Travel Agents), a well-known tourism industry leader and veteran, Mr. Birker Backman didn’t mince words expressing his disgust and sorrow about this election’s misconduct.
“I am pleased to read your statement regarding the corrupt situation surrounding the election procedure and I fully support the courage of eTurbo News to go public.
UNWTO has had the privilege to be headed by outstanding personalities, persons who have brought the organization up from a slumbering past. Persons with integrity and knowledge of tourism and its global importance for not only developed economies but particularly for many new countries for which world-wide tourism has become the primary foreign exchange earning.
It is a great shame if the travel and tourism industry will take the same corrupt turn as seems to be prevalent within the political establishments the world over. Morals and ethics are sadly becoming disappearing virtues. My sincere support for your action.”
Mr. Backman raises a very salient point, UNWTO has been lead by honorable, highly skilled industry heavyweights, specifically including outgoing Secretary-General, Dr. Taleb Rifai. Dr. Rifai’s substantial legacy and the legacy of others who served before him are at serious risk. What happens to our global tourism industry if the post of Secretary-General is hijacked by a candidate and country with the ability to broker deals to buy votes and little authentic ability to lead our UNWTO?
Again, we received an avalanche of widespread outrage, concern, and dismay this week from industry leaders and associations. Each email or call had a similar theme: this must be stopped, it cannot be permitted.
To each of the 33 voting Executive Members, this is the message from our industry:
Vote with moral fortitude in Madrid on May 12!Vote ethically!
Vote responsibly!
Vote for tourism’s future with a vote for a qualified candidate with integrity who can genuinely lead the UNWTO through uncertain times with much global unrest.

There has never been a time when the strength of character by UNWTO Executive Council voting members has been so critical. May 12 our industry will be watching closely, we are calling for honorable voting to occur.

The world’s largest single industry is at grave risk. Global tourism’s future is in the hands of 33 UNTWO Executive Council voting members. This UNWTO election is not to be manipulated, bartered, brokered, hijacked or bought.
We’re now looking long and hard directly at the voting UNWTO Executive Council to send a strong message the Secretary-General position is not for sale, at any price. The catastrophic cost will be too great for our global industry to sustain.
eTN will continue to report on the upcoming UNWTO Secretary-General election taking place in Madrid May 12 and the General Assembly in China this September.

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